Some lawmakers undecided on wine in grocery stores

Some lawmakers undecided on wine in grocery stores

Posted:
"I got employees here that can potentially lose jobs. It's going to be a tough issue," said Ashe's Wine and Spirits owner Thad Cox Jr. "I got employees here that can potentially lose jobs. It's going to be a tough issue," said Ashe's Wine and Spirits owner Thad Cox Jr.
A Vanderbilt University poll conducted last year found at least 60 percent of Tennesseans support allowing wine in supermarkets, even when the survey question noted arguments that the change would hurt small businesses. A Vanderbilt University poll conducted last year found at least 60 percent of Tennesseans support allowing wine in supermarkets, even when the survey question noted arguments that the change would hurt small businesses.
"As a rule, I will tend to side with small businesses," said Sen. Becky Duncan Massey. "As a rule, I will tend to side with small businesses," said Sen. Becky Duncan Massey.

By MIKE KRAFCIK
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The campaign to sell wine in Tennessee grocery stores now has support at the highest levels of state government.  

Bills changing the rules on wine sales seem to come up every year in the state legislature, and every year so far those measures have failed.    

But this time, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell have gone on record as backing wine in grocery stores.  

Both told the Associated Press they're supporting the latest proposal, which adds a local vote.

Harwell and Ramsey now have the opportunity to reshape key committees that could advance a wine in grocery store bill to the house and senate.  

"It's critical that the committee is a level playing field where we can actually have a debate there," said Jarrod Springer, executive director of the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association.  

The change is favored by large supermarket chains such as Kroger, Publix and Costco.  

The latest proposal would allow each county to hold a referendum on whether to allow grocery stores to sell wine, similar to a liquor by the drink or a liquor sales referendum.

"The issue is definitely going to be before the legislature this year," said Sen. Becky Duncan Massey.  

Massey said she has received a number of emails from constituents interested in having wine in grocery stores.

She's undecided on the measure, citing concerns of impacts to liquor store owners.  

"As a rule, I will tend to side with small businesses. I feel like that our small businesses are such an integral part of our community that's it really important to protect those. I'm one of those that say never say never. I'm going to have to see more or less the proof in the pudding," Massey said.  

Ashe's Wine and Spirits owner Thad Cox Jr. said the proposal could undermine the state's effort to curb underage drinking and would hurt his business.  

"I think they're trying a different tactic, but I wish them the best of luck. We're obviously going to stand by what we got. I got employees here that can potentially lose jobs. It's going to be a tough issue," said Cox.

A Vanderbilt University poll conducted last year found at least 60 percent of Tennesseans support allowing wine in supermarkets, even when the survey question noted arguments that the change would hurt small businesses.  

"I would like to see it in grocery stores because I wouldn't have to make that extra stop to pick up my wine or drive to Gatlinburg or Knoxville," said Jamie Roberts of Dandridge.  

"Most people go to liquor stores for their wine. It'd be a lot easier and faster, it'd boost sales at grocery stores," said Michael Meyer of Knoxville.  

State Rep. Bill Dunn was formerly on the state and local government committee. Dunn said he's also undecided on the issue, but cites concerns with the negative effects of expanding the availability of alcohol.

"I see how much alcohol costs the taxpayers of the state of Tennessee through loss of life, broken lives and broken families," Dunn said.  

Gov. Bill Haslam said he doesn't oppose or support the issue, but his administration won't take on the issue this year and will leave it up to lawmakers.  

"I think there are a lot of consumers that would like that. I think the arguments against it are, I think you can control it better under its current situation in terms of making certain everyone gets carded that's supposed to," Haslam said.  "Second, you have some business people that have gone into business under certain presumption how it's going to be sold. Changing the rules mid-game may be a little difficult.  I think the legislature will have a healthy debate on it this year."  

Lobbyists on both sides have been spending a lot of money. 

The Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers PAC had given more than $128,000 to state candidates and committees.  

Meanwhile, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Tennessee gave more than $205,800 in the recently-completed election cycle, tripling the amount it spent in the 2004 cycle.

Powered by WorldNow

1306 N. Broadway NE Knoxville,
Tennessee 37917

Telephone: 865.637.NEWS(6397)
Fax: 865.525.4091
Email: newsroom@wate.com

Can’t find something?
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Young Broadcasting of Knoxville, Inc. A Media General Company.